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“What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in the light; and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.”

These, with other instructions, were given by our Lord Jesus Christ to the twelve apostles when about sending them out to preach in the cities of Judea to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He gave them to understand that they had nothing of friendship or favor to expect from those among whom they were to sojourn, or unto whom they were to preach. Behold, said he, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Their mission was to men who would deliver them up to councils who would scourge them in their synagogues, and they should be brought before governors and kings.

Such being the nature of their mission, and circumstances attending the execution of it; we may safely conclude, if there ever was a time when Christ’s ministers would have occasion to be well equipped with defensive armor and weapons, with swords, spears or Sharp’s rifles, it would have been when going in the midst of enemies as hostile and as deadly as wolves are to sheep. But no such warlike instruments, nor even staves, by which they might keep the very dogs at bay, were allowed them. Human wisdom would suggest, at least, as they were going into the midst of such implacable enemies, they should be able to fall back on their own resources, and to enable them to do so they should be well provided with a generous outfit of food, apparel, of purse and scrip, that they might know what they were to eat and drink, and wherewithal they were to be clothed. But nothing of this was allowed; all this human economy was strictly forbidden; not a purse, or scrip, or second garment, or money, or anything else that human prudence could suggest, was allowed. All these provisions were evidently denied them, that from necessity their trust and confidence should be alone in God for all these things.

There was also another consideration; they were to be brought before councils, governors and kings, and those, all or them, of the most hostile temper and disposition. Would it not be well for the apostles to take some lessons on the subject of parliamentary usages and military tactics, that they should be well versed in legal matters that they might know how to plead their own and their Master’s cause, when before the potentates of the earth? Human wisdom would readily assent to this. But that wisdom which cometh from above will not allow it. Completely cut off from all self-dependence, Christ sent his ministers forth at that time, and thus he sends them still. And by this manifest dependence on God for safety and success, the ministers of Christ shall be distinguished from the ministers of antichrist, down to the end of the world. Perfectly harmonious with these regulations and restrictions, is the instruction given for the composition of their sermons. They were not to cull out from the sayings of men such passages as suited their fancy, and compile their discourses according to the rules of the schoolmen of the age, nor even to premeditate what they should say, but rely alone on the ever-constant providence of God, and in the same hour in which they were to speak, it should be given them what they should say. To this day there is no preaching that so comforts, warms and cheers the hearts of God’s people as that which comes fresh from heaven. In the same hour in which it is received, it is handed out; it has no time to get cold nor stale.

“What I tell you in darkness.” Instead of going to some popular seminary to learn what, and how, and when, and where to preach, the disciples of Christ receive their message from the same Master who gives their commission. Not what others tell you, but what I tell you. This would be enough for them to preach, and they may well leave all other preaching to the ministers of men, and the emissaries of Satan. The ministers of Jesus should always be prepared to preach, saying, Thus saith the Lord. But there is an intimation here expressed of the manner in which Christ instructs his ministers how and what they shall preach.

“What I tell you in darkness.” There is a two-fold sense in which we may understand that Christ instructs his ministers what to publish in his name, in darkness. These instructions are given them out of the sight of all others, when secluded and alone, the matter is between the servant of the living God and his divine Master and Lord: hence in this sense it is told them in darkness. How frequently in ancient and modern times has this distinguishing peculiarity identified the Lord’s ministers in distinction from all others. An instance of this is given in Acts iv. 13: Two of the disciples, to whom the words of our text were immediately addressed, Peter and John, were brought before the rulers and examined, and the result was, “When they,” the rulers, “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned men,” that is, that they had not the embellishment of the schools, that they had not learned their theology at the feet of Gamaliel, “they marveled; and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” Where else could they have learned to preach that gospel which is not a science, but a direct revelation, by the Spirit, from God? So it is also at this day a mystery how God qualifies his ministers to declare among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. To speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory, which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Truly the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show unto him his covenant.

The quickened and guilt-stricken sinner wonders, when hearing his case described by the minister, how the preacher came to know all about his situation; and the joyful convert and the aged pilgrim all are surprised when they hear, perhaps from one who in the flesh is a stranger, the very exercises of their own mind. The truth is, they have been told these things in darkness, or in those spiritual revelations which are out of the sight of human reason.

But there is another sense in which the ministers of Christ receive their instructions in darkness. This is in regard to their own peculiar exercises and experience. When God communicated to Abraham the things that should befall his progeny in the land of Egypt, he caused a horror of darkness to fall upon him, and it is generally, if not uniformly the case, that the most important communications of the Spirit are made to the people of God, especially to his ministers, when clouds and darkness seem to us to be round about his throne, when he keepeth back the face thereof and spreadeth his cloud upon it. He answered Job out of the whirlwind, and good old Elijah had stretched himself out to die, when God told him of more than seven thousand reserved ones who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The ground is barren and the pasture is dry indeed, where no clouds or darkness are ever known. “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in the light.” Be that your theme to preach, and that your message to the people. God’s people, especially his ministers, are to have no secrets in religion. Although all the things of the Spirit are a hidden mystery to every natural man, yet, so far as the minister is concerned, he is not to shun to declare the whole counsel of God. He is to speak in the light; that is, openly, undisguisedly, and without reserve, what he has been divinely commissioned to proclaim. Freely they receive and as freely should they communicate.

“And what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.” Of course we are to understand that what they hear in the ear, has reference to spiritual and divine things. Hence, in giving instructions to his disciples, Christ said to them, “Blessed are your ears, for they hear; and blessed are your eyes, for they see.” And again, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” And in the letters to the seven churches, the language frequently occurs, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” The hearing ear, and the understanding heart, are the special gifts of God, and the evidence of spiritual life. In the quickening of God’s people, the first operation is to make them hear the voice of the Son of God. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, and the saints receive the Spirit by the hearing of faith, and not by the works of the law. And the good Shepherd says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and none shall pluck them out of my hands.” With these qualifications to hear the voice of the Redeemer, the word of the Lord comes to his people, and especially to those who are by him called, qualified and sent forth to preach his gospel, and all the communications made to them by the Spirit, are made through the circumcised ear, by which they hear and know the joyful sound. But the idea of words spoken in the ear, seems in this case to signify the things which Christ in his word, and by his Spirit, has communicated to them. These communications are made to them for the general edification of all the saints, and are therefore to be openly proclaimed. “That preach ye upon the housetops.” As a housetop is a conspicuous place, so the preacher of the gospel is not to put his light under a bushel, or under the bed, but to proclaim, as from the housetops, the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. This admonition to the primitive disciples, who were certain, from what had just been told them, that they were soon to encounter great opposition and severe persecution for the testimony of the truth, was calculated to impress on them the importance of faithfulness in the discharge of their duty, even when scourging, imprisonment and death, stared them in the face. To avoid the violence of persecution, or to save their lives, they are not allowed to keep back any part of the testimony, or shun to declare the whole counsel of God. Nor were they at liberty, in order to avoid the consequences, to seek retirement, or less public places, for proclaiming the truth. As the housetops were the most public places, so, in the most public manner, and in the face of the most violent opposition, were they to expose themselves to the storm, not counting their own lives dear unto themselves, so that they might finish their course with joy, and the ministry which they had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. For unto them it was given, on the behalf of Christ, not only that they should believe on him, but also that they should suffer for his sake.

Middletown, N.Y.
January 15, 1857.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 420 - 425